The Debunker: Are French Poodles Really French?

by Ken Jennings

Dog lovers: could there be a better month than August to salute our canine companions? After all, August 10 is the day poor Rin Tin Tin died, and it’s the day Snoopy celebrates his birthday, in a 1968 Peanuts strip. Two weeks later, on August 26, it’s National Dog Day, according to the Animal Miracle Foundation & Network. To celebrate the dog days of summer, we’ve unleashed Jeopardy!’s Ken Jennings, who will correct some of man’s worst misconceptions about man’s best friend.

 

The Debunker: Are French Poodles Really French?

With their affectionate personalities, big brains, and hypoallergenic coats, poodles are one of the most beloved dog breeds on earth. In the United States, they were the most popular breed for much of the late 20th century, and still hang in the top ten today. Poodles are well-known as the national dog of France, where they’re called caniches—and what could seem more French than a dainty white poodle at a dog show, its fur sculpted into ridiculously stylish puffs, its nose haughtily in the air?

“wuf”

But you might want to reconsider naming your poodle Fifi or Pierre. How does “Gretchen” or “Heinrich” grab you? You see, the so-called “French” poodle didn’t originate in France at all.

Dog genealogists have traced the poodle’s pedigree back to medieval Germany. Poodles were originally bred as hunting dogs—water retrievers, to be precise, as their curly, water-resistant coat made them the perfect companion for duck hunting. In fact, their English name comes from the German word Pudel, the same origin as our modern word “puddle.” Early poodles were Pudelhunden—“splashing dogs.” The breed soon became popular in France, where, in royal courts and circuses, their grooming got ever more elaborate. But many believe that the stereotypical poodle haircut was born not in French circuses but in German duck ponds: a way for poodles to keep their body and joints warm in the water while making their upper half more buoyant. In other words, the poodle’s goofy show clip may have started out as practical work clothing!

Quick Quiz: What American author wrote Travels with Charley, about a road trip with his wife’s ten-year-old poodle Charley?

Ken Jennings is the author of six books, most recently his Junior Genius Guides, Because I Said So!, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.